The actor, writer, and producer reflects on dominant cultural narratives and the complex lives of Black and queer characters on screen and stage.
C&: Lamin, storytelling is at the core of your practice as a trained theater and film actor, but also scriptwriter and producer. What potential and power do you see in the craft of storytelling?
Lamin Leroy Gibba: Telling stories is my way of navigating the world, whether as an actor or writer. It’s like creating containers for all that stuff that otherwise feels overwhelming. Since my work usually starts with thinking about, interpreting, or creating characters, storytelling to me is very connected to curiosity and empathy. I think it’s about finding a way to get close to experiences and circumstances I don’t easily understand. Being really rigorous with that task feels very exciting to me: never judging a character and asking questions that don’t have easy or comfortable answers. I want to tell stories that feel truthful – to both me and an audience.
C&: Film and theater are both collaborative art practices. You seem to always carefully choose who to work with. A recent project, the short film Hundefreund (2022), is a prime example. Could you talk about the evolution of this film, its team effort but also its plot?
LLG: Filmmaking is such a collaborative art form. Bringing people together who’ll collectively work on a project in which all their different artistic disciplines and points of view can merge is so exciting, and gives the project its direction. Hundefreund is about Malik, a Black and queer character who’s on a date during which he is confronted with complicated feelings and realities regarding race, desire, and mental health. The film started as an idea by Sailesh Naidu; I wrote the script and Maissa Lihedheb directed it. The three of us also coproduced the film and we were intentional about finding a crew of mostly QTBIPoC filmmakers. When I said I want to tell stories that feel truthful, that is also a part of it. Our stories, and other stories of marginalized communities who’ve been widely left out of the dominant cultural narratives, need to be told from our point of view in all its nuances and complexity.
C&: What makes the work in German theater and film contexts unique? Do you find there are differences between the two disciplines?
LLG: I don’t draw huge distinctions between theater and film or acting and writing. I haven’t done a play in about a year and I miss it. There’s something very immediate about acting on stage and the connection one has with an audience, which sometimes, ideally, feels like a conversation. Writing and producing has been my focus for this past year, but I’m about to do a lot more acting on camera, which I’m really excited about: to be in those spaces, working with scene partners and finding moments, in collaboration with directors and crew. Acting and writing in the theater and film have different technicalities and of course these are different crafts, but to me they all inform each other and I often find myself using similar tools. It’s always about finding something in the moment, asking questions out loud and to oneself – and listening.
C&: I think it is no secret to say that the German theater and film industry have a tremendous amount of catching up to do when it comes to questions of representation, especially in relation to Black German content. Where do you see your role in all of this?
LLG: There are so many great and untold stories, from perspectives we haven’t yet seen in film, television, or theater. I want to continue to create opportunities in these industries, for myself and others, and tell many different kinds of stories. I’m a member of Schwarze Filmschaffende e.V (Black German Filmmakers Association), which does a lot of important work regarding equity and inclusion for Black filmmakers in the German-speaking landscape, from an intersectional point of view. There’s so much work to be done to make sure that people with underrepresented and marginalized perspectives (Black, Indigenous, people of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled, women, femme, working class, and many others) finally receive sufficiently sustainable access, resources, and visibility to do their work. I think it requires ongoing conversation as well as a commitment and actions by institutional decision-makers.
C&: You’re working on your first TV show for German public broadcaster ARD. Its title is Schwarze Früchte (Black Fruit) and you are writing, show running, and acting. This is a milestone in German TV history – congratulations again! Without spilling too much, what is at the core of Schwarze Früchte?
LLG: Thank you! At this point I can’t say much more than that series centers Black German and queer characters, whose stories we want to tell in all their complexity and messiness. I hope it will feel very truthful. I’m also really excited by all the talented collaborators that I get to work with on this, including the two directors Elisha Smith-Leverock and David Uzochukwu.
Magnus Elias Rosengarten is a writer and artist who currently lives in Paris.
2023 marks a special year for Contemporary And (C&): the platform has turned TEN! Find here all information about our events and special projects.